Nationalism and Subaltern Studies

Opposing to Eurocentric definitions of nationalism we might consider a premise based on Anderson’s Imagined communities in an article Unfinished Imagined Communities: States, Social Movements, and Nationalism in Latin America, written by José Itzigsohn and Matthias vom Hau. They propose a different view:

Anderson argues that early nineteenth-century “creole pioneers” invented nations in the struggle for Independence from Spain, thereby establishing a “blueprint” for nationalism around the globe. Anderson’s argument about the Latin American origins of nationalism did not work out. Critics were quick to point out that ideas about popular sovereignty and citizenship employed by insurgent creoles originated in Western Europe (Greenfield, 1992; Guibernau, 1996), and that Anderson’s elite-centered argument ignored the agency of subaltern actors (Lomnitz, 2001; Mallon, 1995; Thurner, 1997). We maintain, however, that it is worthwhile to follow Anderson’s invitation to explore how the Latin American experience can inform theories of nationalism.”

Here we stumble upon a merely new field of studies called Subaltern studies. Ileana Rodríguez, the editor of The Latin American Subaltern Studies Reader, explains the project of subalternity which began in India as a political and epistemological criticism of history. In year 1981, Ranajit Guha defined the subaltern very broadly as anyone who is subordinated “in terms of class, caste, age, gender and office or in any other way.” Historical knowledge, subalternists contended, organized the past in line with the governmental efforts of the modern state. Opposition to state policy was deemed logical and political if carried out in a language that the state could contest and eventually incorporate.

In the funding statement of Latin American Subaltern Studies Group (LASSG), which was released in 1993, it is written:

»De-nationalization is simultaneously a limit and a threshold of our project. The deterritorialization of the nation-state under the impact of the new permeability of frontiers to capital-labor flows merely replicates, in effect, the genetic process of implantation of a colonial economy in Latin America in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It is not only that we can no longer operate solely within the prototype of nationhood; the concept of the nation, itself tied to the protagonism of Creole elites concerned to dominate and/or manage other social groups or classes in their own societies, has obscured, from the start, the presence and reality of subaltern social subjects in Latin American history. We need, in this sense, to go backward to consider both pre-Columbian and colonial forms of pre-national territorialization, as well as forward to think about newly emerging territorial subdivisions, permeable frontiers, regional logics, and concepts such as Commonwealth or Pan-Americanism”.

In the process of trying to understand nationalism in Latin America we must recognize theories developed in Latin America because they may present a different standing point and lead us to epistemological criticism of history.

Literature and Further readings

Anderson, Benedict. 2006. Imagined Communities Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. London: Verso.

Itzigsohn, José and Matthias vom Hau. 2006. Unfinished Imagined Communities: States, Social Movements, and Nationalism in Latin America. Theory and Society, 35 (2), pp.193-212.

Latin American Subaltern Studies Group. 1993. The Postmodernism Debate in Latin America. Boundary 20, (3). Duke University Press pp. 110-121.

Ileana Rodríguez (ed.).2001. The Latin American Subaltern Studies Reader. Durham and North Carolina: Duke University Press.


On National and Regional Identities: case from Brazil and Greece

 The author of the book Tradition Matters: a modern Gaúcho tradition in Brazil, Ruben George Oliven wishes to explain the development and needed processes of making a national state (unification, building a national identity etc.) in contrast with regionalism, which emphasizes the peculiarities of the region within national borders with the Brazilian example of its southernmost region Rio Grande do Sul (RS). He defends the thesis that the term nationalism and regionalism do not exist one without the other because they are the cause and the consequence of changing political, economic and cultural factors. In this way, gaucho identity, specific for RS, cannot exist without a Brazilian national state.

Social construction of gaúcho identity is based on the glorification of the rural past and the figure of a man on the horse from the southwest part of the region RS. Gaúcho was living in vast areas of wilderness, always accompanied by a horse. He was strong, fateful and proud. He represents the ideal of a free and brave individual, which serves as an example for other ethnic groups (like German, Italian and Polish). He unifies people living in the region and at the same time differentiates from others regions of Brazil. Special relationship that gaúchos have with the Brazilian state is represented in theirs regional flag. It consists of three colors: green and yellow – national colors, separated by a red line which stands for the blood that was split in the history of the region. In the center if the flag is the coat of arms where is written: “Freedom, equality and humanity” and “Rio Grandian Republic, 20. September 1985”. Why the blood and Republic? Because according to the Gaúchos tradition, they experienced many wars that the rest of the country did not. Being at the border of Hispanic and Lusophonic part of the continent caused cultural and armed fights, there were wars inside the region and also the region itself was in war with the Brazilian state. Former happened in 1985 and lasted for almost 10 years. It was named the Farroupilha revolution in which the region gain independence for a short period of time. The beginning of the Farroupilha is inaugurated today as the most important regional celebration.

Ethnical regionalism, shortly described above, is certainly not the only one in the Latin America and the rest of the world. One European example would be the island of Crete and its special relationship to the national state, Greece. In the article Localism and the logic of nationalistic folklore: Cretan Reflections, author explains the presumably irresolvable paradox of the promotion of localist text in the service of an inclusive national entity. The object of nation-state, in the logic of the European nationalism, is to unify all potentially divergent cultural and social entities within a single framework, so that localist sentiment ceases to represent the threat of political separatism. Cretan folklore provided a useful set of materials for objectifying and conceptualizing the complex tensions that subsisted in the fractious, disobedient, but overwhelmingly loyal island. In this sense Cretans are more “greek” than the Greeks and they can only express theirs local identity inside the national state.

Literature and Further Readings:

Giordano, Christian. 2007 “Ethnic versus Cosmopolitan Regionalism? For a Political Anthropology of Local Identity Construction in a Globalized World-System.” Ethnologia Balcanica 11, 44-58.

Gellner, Ernest. 1983 “Nations and nationalism.” Oxford: Blackwell.

Herzfeld, Michael. 2003. Localism and the Logic of nationalistic Folklore: Cretan Reflections. Comparative Studies in Society and History 43, 281-310.

Oliven, Ruben, George. 1996.Tradition matters: modern gaúcho identity in Brazil.New York: Columbia University Press.

Thiesse, Anna, Marie. 2005: National identities: a transnational paradigm.” V: Dieckhoff, Alain in Christophe Jaffrelor, ur. Revisiting nationalism. Paris: Centre d’Etudes et de Recherches Internationales, 122-144.